Gay advocates assailed Obama, while many conservative Christians were heartened, when he invited the Rev. Rick Warren, a Southern Baptist who opposes gay marriage, to deliver the inaugural invocation on Tuesday. The tables turned when Obama asked V. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay Episcopal bishop, to lead prayers at Sunday's kickoff for the inauguration at the Lincoln Memorial. Gay rights groups rejoiced, while some conservative Christians wrung their hands.
A prayer will be offered at the National Cathedral by Ingrid Mattson, the first woman president of the Islamic Society of North America, according to an official who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information. The Islamic Society, based in Indiana, is the nation's largest Muslim group.
Three rabbis, representing the three major branches of American Judaism, will also say a prayer at the service, according to officials familiar with the plans. The Jewish clergy are Reform Rabbi David Saperstein, Conservative Rabbi Jerome Epstein and Orthodox Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, sources said.
It is also traditional for the incoming administration to ask the Roman Catholic archbishop of Washington to lead a prayer. The Most Rev. Donald Wuerl leads the archdiocese.
But Obama's choice of clergy is also of greater interest because of the changing landscape of American religion. The United States is more diverse than ever before, and members of minority faiths yearn to be recognized as fully American. Even atheists are newly energized, suing to prevent prayer and mention of God at the swearing-in.
"The sense is it's time to balance that out and to have other voices heard. He's supposed to represent change," Haynes said. "There are many people looking for a symbolic change in tone, especially when it comes to issues of religion and public life."